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JIMALEE SOWELL

United States

How to Write an
ELT Conference Abstract

A
t a recent TESOL International Convention & English Language
Expo, I heard a number of comments about writing conference
abstracts:
“Wow, she got three proposals accepted; she must be really good at
writing conference abstracts.”
“My proposal didn’t get accepted: I guess I’m not good at writing
conference abstracts.”
“There was an 18 percent acceptance rate of proposals this year. You
have to be able to write a good abstract to have any chance.”
While the conference abstract is not the only important factor in
determining acceptance or rejection to present at a conference, it is
probably the most significant one. No matter how timely and relevant
your intended presentation might be, if your conference abstract does
not show that you have a proposal worth presenting, you risk not having
your proposal accepted.

In my own experience, when I was a student in a those colleagues with considerable success
master’s degree program, we practiced writing getting proposals accepted. It was my desire to
conference abstracts for a mock conference. make the conference abstract for the TESOL
While this experience was meant to help us learn conference a better understood and more
how to write an effective conference abstract, user-friendly genre for everyone in the field of
I felt more confused at the end of the writing English language teaching (ELT), from novices
exercise than I did at the beginning. In the process to experienced academics, that inspired this
of peer review, everyone in my group was unsure article. In the article, I do the following:
about how to give feedback because none of
us had a solid concept of the genre, of how the • explain what the conference abstract is
conference abstract should be written, or of the
criteria for evaluation. Later, when I needed to • go over challenges of writing a conference
write conference abstracts for actual conference abstract
proposals, I was still unsure about what to include
and how to format them; it was with a surge of • offer suggestions for preparing to write
anxiety and uncertainty that I wrote each one.
• outline common requirements
I realized that I was not alone and that many
of my colleagues were also unsure of what • provide an overview and samples of the
makes a conference abstract successful, even common parts of the conference abstract

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• offer a checklist for reviewing the are usually viewed only by the conference
conference abstract committee (the conference abstract is different
from the abstract summary in the conference
• explain the promissory abstract program), which makes locating models of
successful abstracts challenging (Berkenkotter
My hope is that readers will finish the article and Huckin 1995; Halleck and Connor 2006;
with an understanding of conference abstracts Payant and Hardy 2016).
and a clearer sense of how to write them
effectively. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that a
conference abstract needs to sell a potential
WHAT IS A CONFERENCE ABSTRACT? presentation in a limited number of words
(Halleck and Connor 2006; Swales and Feak
A conference abstract is a concise summary 2000). The conference abstract is often a
of a proposed conference presentation. It is high-stakes genre. For many institutions,
a stand-alone piece of writing that explains conference presentations are an important
your intended presentation to the conference part of scholarship and professional
committee. As the conference abstract is development (Halleck and Connor 2006;
often the only way in which the conference Payant and Hardy 2016), and rejection to
committee can judge your intended a conference can potentially mean loss of
presentation, it is, by nature, promotional funding or a lost opportunity to present
(Swales and Feak 2000, 2009). While some work to an audience of peers (Halleck and
conference abstracts might be similar to Connor 2006; Payant and Hardy 2016).
research-paper abstracts, it should be clear However, while the conference abstract is of
that conference abstracts are not research- paramount importance to academics, there is
paper abstracts. Conference abstracts are little guidance available on how to write one
independent pieces of writing that “succeed (Berkenkotter and Huckin 1995; Halleck and
or fail on their own merits” (Swales and Feak Connor 2006; Payant and Hardy 2016).
2009, 43). It is also important to understand
that conference abstracts will vary depending PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS
on session type; that is, conference abstracts
for research presentations are likely to differ In this section, I outline important first steps
from conference abstracts for workshops and for preparing to write a conference abstract:
other kinds of conference presentations. deciding what to present and understanding
the proposal requirements.
THE CHALLENGE OF WRITING A
CONFERENCE ABSTRACT Deciding what to present
Which comes first: preparing the presentation
Writing a conference abstract can be incredibly and then finding a suitable conference, or
difficult. In part, this is because the conference finding a conference and then preparing a
abstract is an occluded genre—a hidden genre presentation? There is no absolute answer.
that is typically not available to the general You might have already written a paper or
viewing public and is usually confidential in have prepared a presentation that you would
nature (Swales 1996); other examples are like to give at a conference. In this case, you
research proposals and college admissions would look for a suitable conference for your
essays. While some conferences provide presentation—a conference that fits the topic
conference abstract samples and guidelines, and type of presentation you have prepared.
many do not. Even when guidelines are Alternatively, you might first learn about a
provided, they are sometimes vague, with certain conference where you would like to
statements such as, “Abstracts will be evaluated present and then prepare your presentation.
on clarity and relevance to the conference In this case, you might not even decide what
theme.” Additionally, conference abstracts you want to present until you know what the

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conference theme is. For example, I presented used for vetting, as the conference abstract and
at two Nepal English Language Teaching the shorter abstract, included in the conference
Association (NELTA) conferences. For the program, as the abstract summary.
first one, I had already prepared a workshop
on dialogue journals before I knew about the Table 1 lists additional important guidelines
conference. The theme of the conference was for preparing a conference abstract.
“Transformations in ELT: Contexts, Agents,
and Opportunities,” which I linked to the THEMES AND SUBTHEMES
subtheme “Developing Reading and Writing
Skills Differently.” For the second NELTA Conferences have themes and subthemes.
conference, I prepared my workshop “The Some themes are specific—the theme at
Writing Process and Formative Assessment in the 8th Pronunciation in Second Language
Academic Writing” to fit the conference theme Learning and Teaching (PSLLT) Conference
“Authentic Assessment: A Paradigm Shift from was “The Role of Technology in L2
Traditional to Alternative Assessment.” Pronunciation Research and Teaching”—and
some are more general, such as the Africa
Understanding the proposal requirements TESOL 2nd International Conference, with
The first step is to look for the Call for Papers, the theme “New Horizons in Language
which is sometimes also called the Call for Teaching.” As a general rule, you want to link
Proposals or Call for Presentations.The Call for your presentation and, by extension, your
Papers is an announcement for an upcoming conference abstract to the theme or subtheme.
conference that is soliciting speakers.The Call for Listed subthemes can range from fairly
Papers will announce the conference and explain restrictive to fairly general. Some conferences
how to submit a proposal. Read the Call for are open to receiving abstracts on topics
Papers carefully. Abstract requirements as well as relevant to the theme but not necessarily
the language used to describe these requirements listed under the subthemes; for example, the
vary from conference to conference. Follow the Africa TESOL 4th International Conference
guidelines for submission. Falling outside the accepted abstracts on the conference theme,
stated boundaries—no matter how interesting subthemes, and “any other topic that has
or relevant your proposal—could be grounds relevance to the conference theme” (https://
for dismissal (Fowler 2011). Some conference www.africatesol.org/call-for-papers2).
committees require only one abstract. Most
conferences, however, ask for two abstracts: Some conferences are open to receiving
a longer one and a shorter one.The longer abstracts outside the conference theme
abstract is for vetting and will be reviewed by the and subthemes; for example, the Korean
conference committee; the shorter abstract is Association of Teachers of English (KATE)
for inclusion in the conference program (if your Conference has given priority to proposals
proposal is accepted) so that conference-goers that relate to the theme but welcomes all
can decide whether to attend your presentation. proposals with topics related to English
language teaching. Unless the policy
Although most conferences follow this specifically states otherwise, submitting a
formula of abstract and summarized version, conference abstract that is not relevant to the
terminology differs and can lead to confusion. theme or subtheme can work against you.
For instance, some call the conference abstract
the “abstract” and the shorter version an CRITERIA FOR EVALUATION OF
“abstract summary” or “summary” or even ABSTRACTS
“blurb.” Others call the shortened version the
“abstract” and the longer version the “summary” Before starting to draft your conference
or “session description.” Some simply ask for abstract, it is important to have an idea about
two abstracts; a shorter one and a longer one. the factors that might help an abstract succeed
In this article, I refer to the longer abstract, or cause it to fail. Check the Call for Papers

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GUIDELINE DESCRIPTION
Time allotment Make sure that what you plan to deliver in your presentation is
reasonable for the time given. A proposed presentation that seems
impossible to deliver in the allotted time is likely to be rejected.
Consider the difference between Example A and Example B:
Example A: “In this workshop, the presenter will go over the history of
music in composition, provide an analysis of what makes music a useful
medium for helping students understand the composing process, and
offer practical suggestions for helping students create compositions
blended with musical scores.”
Example B: “In this workshop, the presenter suggests there is a
significant link between written composition and music and offers
tangible suggestions for incorporating music in the composition
classroom to improve student writing.”
While Example A is broad and expansive and too much to undertake in
one presentation, Example B is narrow and focused.
Audience Make sure that your presentation is suitable for the intended audience.
This might relate to specific groups, such as young learners, higher-
education professionals, refugee and immigrant populations, and so on.
Average length of The conference abstract is usually 300 words or fewer, the abstract
key components summary is around 50 words, and the title is generally no more than 12
words. However, requirements vary from conference to conference.
Length Write as close as you can to the word limit without going over it.
considerations Researchers (Berkenkotter and Huckin 1995; Egbert and Plonsky 2015;
Halleck and Connor 2006; Payant and Hardy 2016) found that, on
average, failed conference abstracts were shorter than accepted ones.
This is perhaps because longer conference abstracts tended to be more
developed and informative than shorter ones.
Other frequently Most conferences usually require a biodata (usually of 50 words
required or fewer). Some conferences ask for keywords to accompany the
components conference abstract and abstract summary.
Recycling Note that some Calls for Papers will ask that you do not submit a
proposals proposal that has been submitted to another conference.
Table 1. Important guidelines for preparing a conference abstract

or proposal guidelines for information on how conference held in Vietnam in 2018: “Abstracts
your proposal will be evaluated (McVeigh must be no longer than 300 words and must be
2012). Some conferences, such as the TESOL relevant to the conference theme and clearly
International Convention & English Language describe the presentation’s purpose, methods,
Expo (often referred to as “the TESOL data sources, existing literature and potential
Conference” or simply as “TESOL”) and those contributions to the field” (http://www.
at the Universidad San Sebastián in Santiago, vnseameo.org/TESOLConference2018/). For
Chile, provide their rating rubrics with the conferences that offer rubrics or other scoring
Call for Papers. Others list general criteria guides, a good way to plan your writing is to
for evaluation, such as the “Breakthroughs in aim to meet the requirements for the high-
English Language Teaching in the 21st Century” score criteria on the rubric (McVeigh 2012).

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THE PARTS OF A CONFERENCE ABSTRACT conference abstracts. Payant and Hardy (2016)
slightly adapted Halleck and Connor’s (2006)
One way that researchers better understand framework by adding two moves: Benefits to
specific genres is by analyzing common Attendees and Benefits to the Field. While I have
features that occur in a piece of writing. accepted Payant and Hardy’s (2016) Benefits
Understanding what affordances and to Attendees move as an important adaption
constraints are typical in a genre can help to Halleck and Connor’s (2006) original
writers plan and execute their own writing. framework, I have rejected their Benefits to
This section explains the parts of the the Field move because they failed to explain
conference abstract. this move and provide concrete examples.
Furthermore, the Benefits to the Field move
What is a move? could possibly have a significant overlap with
Conference abstracts feature certain rhetorical the Gap move described in Table 2.
moves. A rhetorical move is basically a
functional unit, or part of a text, that serves Table 2 identifies 11 moves and provides a
a specific communicative purpose (Halleck brief description. The purpose of explaining
and Connor 2006). There is no specific length each move is to clearly illustrate the parts
for a move. While many conference-abstract of a conference abstract so that you can use
moves are sentence-length, a move can be them in your own writing. It is important to
made up of more than one sentence or part understand that while a conference abstract
of a sentence, and one sentence might have might contain any of the moves listed in the
multiple moves (Halleck and Connor 2006). framework, there is no cookie-cutter mold
for conference abstracts; Halleck and Connor
BREAKING DOWN THE MOVES: (2006) found that not every successful
A FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYZING MOVES conference abstract contained every move, the
IN TESOL CONFERENCE ABSTRACTS sequencing of moves varied, and no move was
an obligatory component.
Based on previous genre studies, Halleck and
Connor (2006) developed a framework of A conference abstract could possibly follow
moves they identified as occurring in TESOL the sequence in Table 2, but the moves are not

MOVE PURPOSE
1. Territory Gives a background or context of the given activity
2. Reporting Previous Makes reference to previous related research or work
Research
3. Gap States something is missing in the territory or previous research
4. Goal Gives the aim or objective of the study or presentation
5. Means 1 Specifies the actions that lead to the goal
6. Means 2 Indicates what will actually happen (method and procedure) in
the presentation
7. Outcomes Gives the expected results of the research or other activity
8. Benefits Shows how the research or other activity relates to the real world
9. Importance Claim Explains why the research or activity is important
10. Competence Claim Tells why the presenter is credible to present on the given topic
11. Benefits to Attendees Explains what session attendees will take away from the session
Table 2. Moves in TESOL conference abstracts (adapted from Halleck and Connor [2006] and
Payant and Hardy [2016])

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listed in an obligatory sequence. For instance, in Writing Workshops in K–12 settings
while the Territory move might often appear (see Atwell 2009; Fletcher and Portalupi
as the first move in a conference abstract, 2001; Urbanski 2006). (Bita Bookman)
it might not appear at all, or it might occur
in a position other than the first move, or Example: Process writing can reduce
it might be embedded in another move. anxiety, build confidence, and improve
While the number of possible moves in the overall student performance (Bayat 2014;
given framework might seem overwhelming, Huang 2011). (Christina Torres)
it is important to realize that Payant and
Hardy (2016) found in their research that no The RPR move can also refer to important
conference abstract contained all moves, and debates or research terms (Halleck and
some moves—such as the Importance Claim and Connor 2006).
Competence Claim—occur infrequently.
Example: While Truscott (1996, 1999,
In the following descriptions of rhetorical 2004, 2009) and Truscott and Hsu
moves, I give credit to several former (2008) argue that corrective feedback
colleagues for the examples that they on grammatical items does not improve
generously shared. Where I was unable to grammatical accuracy in student
readily identify examples in the work they writing and can even cause harm, other
shared, I created examples for the purpose researchers (e.g., Doughty and Varela
of illustration. 1998; Doughty and Williams 1998; Ellis
1998; Ellis, Basturkmen, and Lowen 2001;
Territory James 1998; Lightbrown 1998; Tomasello
The Territory move establishes the background and Herron 1989) have found that learners
of your proposed presentation and as such is benefit from explicit error correction.
usually a broad, sweeping statement. Halleck (Example created for this article)
and Connor (2006, 76) found the Territory
move “in more than half of the proposals” they Several researchers indicate that the use of
examined and reported that in most cases, the citations is an important way to display insider
Territory was positioned as the first move. status and to show how the current study or
activity fits into the broader research context
Example: Assessment and evaluation (Berkenkotter and Huckin 1995; Cutting
are a serious and integral part of the 2012; Egbert and Plonsky 2015). The TESOL
instructional process, affecting not only conference rubric specifically mentions
students, but teachers, society, and the citations or terminology related to the field
whole educational milieu. (Rosa Fagundes) for a high rating under its theory, practice,
and/or research basis criteria.
Example: With the ever more rapid
movement of people and ideas, explaining Gap
our own cultures and learning about The Gap indicates that something related to
other cultures are things we both can and the Territory, or to the Territory and RPR, is
must do more often. (William Wolf) missing or somehow problematic (Halleck
and Connor 2006). The Gap is the heartbeat
Reporting Previous Research (RPR) of your presentation; it is, after all, the
The Reporting Previous Research (RPR) move motivation behind your proposed study and
indicates previous research related to the topic. presentation (Halleck and Connor 2006).
The RPR is frequently positioned after the Halleck and Connor (2006) found that the
Territory move (Halleck and Connor 2006). Gap occurred in more than 50 percent of
proposals and that it is often introduced by the
Example: There are many publications word however. It might also be introduced by
and teacher handbooks on assessment other transitions signals, such as nonetheless,

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at any rate, still, yet, etc. Sometimes, though, it Example: In this study, 55 Ivorian
occurs without a transition signal. teachers were given questionnaires to
determine the strategies, techniques, and
Example: Still, both official reports and materials they used to become competent
anecdotal evidence seem to indicate users of English. (Example created for this
that mastery of English is not where it is article)
expected to be despite widely shared views
about its importance for job opportunities Example: Dialogue journals were
and social mobility. (Elka Todeva) analyzed over the course of ten weeks
for development of grammar and
Example: However, the Writing Workshop vocabulary skills. (Example created for
model has not been adequately explored as this article)
a teaching and assessment model in higher
education contexts, especially in first-year Means 2
composition courses for English language Means 2 refers to the actual methods used in
learners. (Bita Bookman) the presentation and was often positioned as
the final move (Halleck and Connor 2006). In
Goal some cases, Means 2 specifically outlined what
The Goal states the main aim or purpose of would be presented or discussed.
the study or presentation and appeared more
frequently “than any other move” (Halleck Example: The session begins with a
and Connor 2006, 78). The Goal often begins brief overview of the characteristics of a
with statements like “The purpose/objective successful assessment. Then, using a video
of this study … ” or “This study addresses … ” clip, sample exam sheet, exam cards, and
(Halleck and Connor 2006, 78). rubric, the presenter will demonstrate this
method of oral assessment from planning
Example: Using Hanauer’s (2008) to implementation. (Bita Bookman)
definition of functional and non-place
identity, this research project aims to look Example: In this workshop, participants
at the lived experiences of individuals will experience, analyze, and discuss
whose dual (or multiple) citizenships have three principles of small group work
allowed them to have non-place identities. for English language learners that
(Bita Bookman) maximize active learning while facilitating
English language development. (Leah
The Goal is sometimes presented as several Jordano-Kudalis)
questions in bulleted or paragraph form
(Halleck and Connor 2006). Means 2 often made mention of audience
participation, a handout, or both (Halleck and
Example: In order to develop valid and Connor 2006).
fair multiple-choice items, there are some
principles that must be considered. For Example: The participants share their
example, what is the construct that is own experience through discussion and in
being assessed? Is the item biased? How the Q&A sessions. (Bita Bookman)
plausible are the distractors? Are the
options exclusively mutual? Is there a Example: Handouts will be provided.
double-key? (Bita Bookman) (Christina Torres)

Means 1 Outcomes
Means 1 denotes the actions that lead to the The Outcomes move denotes the expected
Goal, such as methods, tasks, and procedures results or findings of the research or other
(Halleck and Connor 2006). activity; the Outcomes move often starts “either

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with a description of the results or with Competence Claim
their pedagogical implications” (Halleck and The Competence Claim states why the presenter
Connor 2006, 79). is qualified to deliver a presentation on the
proposed topic (Halleck and Connor 2006).
Example: The results of this study suggest
that the color of ink used for written Example: The presenter has more than
feedback has no sort of psychological 30 years of experience in language assessment
impact on students’ attitudes and beliefs and is the author of two books on the
regarding their written errors. (Example subject. (Example created for this article)
created for this article)
Halleck and Connor (2006) and Payant and
Example: The pedagogical implications Hardy (2016) found that the Importance Claim
of this study suggest that English and the Competence Claim occurred in very
language teachers could benefit from few conference abstracts; some conference-
additional training on identifying and abstract writers chose to use one or both of
accommodating learning disabilities in these moves, but most conference-abstract
the English language classroom. (Example writers did not include them.
created for this article)
Benefits to Attendees
Benefits The Benefits to Attendees move shows what
The Benefits move shows how the Outcomes session attendees can expect to take away
of the proposed activity (e.g., the study, from the presentation (Payant and Hardy
project, or workshop) can be useful in the 2016).
real world. The Benefits move was found in
fewer than half of the proposals (Halleck and Example: All in all, participants will
Connor 2006). walk away from this workshop with the
tools needed to energize themselves
Example: … using a Tracking Chart as and their teams of learners for efficient
part of process writing instruction helps and effective small group work. (Leah
students to become self-aware of their Jordano-Kudalis)
own areas of strengths and weaknesses.
(Christina Torres) Example: At the end of this workshop,
the participants will be able to confidently
Example: The results of this survey write, review, and revise multiple-choice
can help teachers of English in under- items for formative and summative
resourced EFL contexts impart strategies assessments. (Bita Bookman)
and techniques for successful language
learning to their students. (Example FULL CONFERENCE ABSTRACTS
created for this article)
Here I present two full conference abstracts
Importance Claim in order to illustrate how rhetorical moves
The Importance Claim emphasizes the significance might be presented in a conference abstract.
of the particular study or presentation and is You will notice that neither sample has all
sometimes signaled by the word importance the potential moves that could occur in a
(Halleck and Connor 2006, 80). conference abstract. In their research, Payant
and Hardy (2016) found that the majority
Example: In the current climate of trends of the conference abstracts they analyzed
towards developing better curricula followed the general pattern of starting
for Writing in the Disciplines (WID), with the Territory, RPR, and Gap moves, and
these findings are especially important. often concluded with Outcomes and Benefits to
(Example created for this article) Attendees. Although only two samples are given

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here, further analysis of conference abstracts need to understand the value of the corrections
would likely reveal numerous variations of they receive in order to internalize them
moves in successful conference abstracts. (Best, Jones-Katz, Smolarek, Stolzenburg,
and Williamson 2015). [MEANS 2:] The
Sample full conference abstract 1 presenters will demonstrate how using a
Title: Writing Assessment in Higher Tracking Chart as part of process writing
Education Using the Writing Workshop Model instruction helps students to become self-aware
of their own areas of strengths and weaknesses.
[TERRITORY and RPR:] There are many
publications and teacher handbooks on [MEANS 2:] In this presentation, we
assessment in Writing Workshops in K–12 will actively lead participants through the
settings (see Atwell 2009; Fletcher and Tracking Chart and its efficacy using real
Portalupi 2001; Urbanski 2006). [GAP:] student writing samples. We will begin by
However, the Writing Workshop model demonstrating the Tracking Chart used in our
has not been adequately explored as a writing classes and explaining the three areas
teaching and assessment model in higher of correction covered in the Chart: content/
education contexts, especially in first-year organization, grammar, and formatting. The
composition courses for English language participants will be divided into groups to
learners. [MEANS 2:] In this presentation, code a piece of student writing using the
the presenter describes her experience Chart. The groups will then report their
implementing the Writing Workshop model results to predict at what point in the semester
and assessing students in a developmental the writing assignment was submitted. The
writing course for international students in a purpose of this exercise is for the participants
university in the United States. The speaker to understand how the Chart is a visual
will first introduce the Writing Workshop representation of student improvement
model and the opportunities it provides for throughout the semester for both teachers
systematic formative assessment of writing and students. We will debrief this practice-
and grammar skills. Then, using examples oriented presentation by revealing the
and materials, the presenter will outline correction chart data from our class cohort
some challenges that a Writing Workshop to show patterns of progress and finish by
may present in higher education and offers reflecting on the implications for the session
solutions. There will be time for Q&A at the participants’ own classrooms. Handouts will
end of the presentation. (Bita Bookman) be provided. (Christina Torres)

Sample full conference abstract 2 FORMATTING AND STYLE


Title: Using a Tracking Chart as Part of CONSIDERATIONS
Process Writing Instruction
One paragraph or more?
[TERRITORY:] International university Most conference abstracts are written as
students need to be successful writers not one block of text, but some are divided into
just in their English classes, but also in their paragraphs (Swales and Feak 2009). There is
future university classes. One critical aspect no absolute rule on this, but since conference
to success at the university level is the ability abstracts are typically written as one block
to produce clear writing and critically analyze of text, break your conference abstract into
their own texts. [RPR:] Process writing paragraphs only if you have a compelling
can reduce anxiety, build confidence and reason to do so.
improve overall student performance (Bayat
2014; Huang 2011). [GAP:] However, Title of your conference abstract
research shows that students often repeat the The title of your conference abstract should
same mistakes in spite of multiple written clearly reflect your intended presentation and
corrections from instructors. [RPR:] Students should interest potential conference-goers

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(Fowler 2011). Swales and Feak (2009) they may not be able to match the degree of
recommend crafting a title that works as an in-depth feedback that can be provided by
attention-getter and suggest writing a title someone in the field. Look to colleagues and
with a colon, such as “Winning Combinations: superiors, especially those with experience
K–6 Partnerships in Florida” (Swales and Feak submitting and reviewing conference
2009, 57). While an attention-getting title abstracts. Give important attention to creating
might help your proposal stand out, do not an error-free conference abstract. Egbert
favor a snappy title at the expense of clarity. and Plonsky (2015) found that ratings were
Conference-goers, to a large extent, choose significantly higher for conference abstracts
the sessions they want to attend based on titles with no errors.
alone—sometimes without actually reading
the abstract summaries in the conference Use the checklist in Table 4 for self-evaluation
program. Misleading titles can result in or peer-evaluation to guide your revision.
disappointed audience members who had With peer-revision, it is a good idea to
different expectations. provide your reviewer with the guidelines
for the conference you are submitting your
Additional stylistic considerations conference abstract to.
Table 3 lists additional stylistic considerations
for developing a conference abstract. ABSTRACT SUMMARY

CHECKING YOUR CONFERENCE Many conference proposals ask for an


ABSTRACT abstract summary that will be included in the
conference program. If you need to submit an
Give yourself enough time to check and abstract summary, remember that the shorter
revise your conference abstract. Conference abstract is a separate piece of writing; it is not
abstracts that are written the night before a repetition of sentences from the abstract
the submission deadline will likely appear used for vetting purposes. Again, the purpose
rushed and underdeveloped. A well-written of the abstract summary is to help conference-
conference abstract often requires several goers decide whether to attend your
drafts (Swales and Feak 2000). If possible, presentation (Swales and Feak 2000, 2009).
get feedback (McVeigh 2012; Swales and Typically, abstract summaries introduce the
Feak 2000). Try to get feedback from insiders topic and then state what will happen in the
in the field of ELT (teachers, researchers, presentation and are often limited to about 50
administrators). Observers outside the field words. Sometimes the abstract summary will
might be able to give cursory feedback, but also indicate the intended audience. Following

Important Points on Style


• Do not directly refer to yourself or your institution in your conference abstract or
abstract summary. Instead, refer to yourself anonymously in the third person, such as
“the presenter.”
• Do not use quotations; instead, paraphrase.
• Do not use footnotes.
• Do not include any figures or tables.
• Do not use abbreviations.
• Spell out acronyms in the first mention. The generally accepted practice is to write out
the full name first, followed by the acronym in parentheses in the first mention—for
example, “Communicative Language Teaching (CLT).” You can then use the acronym
CLT by itself in subsequent mentions.
Table 3. Important points on style

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are two abstract summaries that indicate the often do not attend to their mistakes.
associated rhetorical moves. [MEANS 2:] This practice-oriented session
will demonstrate how correction tracking
Sample abstract summary 1 engages students and empowers them to take
[TERRITORY:] The Writing Workshop responsibility for their mistakes, resulting in
model can provide ample opportunities for improved written work. (Christina Torres)
systematic formative assessment. [MEANS 2:]
In this presentation, the speaker describes the THE PROMISSORY ABSTRACT
implementation of the Writing Workshop in a
first-year composition course for international Ideally, you will already have prepared your
students, the opportunities for assessment in presentation before you write the conference
comparison to traditional models of teaching abstract. Logically, it is much easier to
writing, some potential challenges, and summarize work that has been completed
possible solutions. (Bita Bookman) than work that does not yet exist or is still in
process. However, in the world of conference
Sample abstract summary 2 proposals, the ideal does not always occur
[TERRITORY:] International students must (Swales and Feak 2000, 2009), and you might
become academically proficient writers in need to write a conference abstract for a study
a limited time frame. [GAP:] Even when or presentation that is not yet finished. In such
instructors give written feedback, students cases, you are tasked with writing a promissory

Checklist Yes No Notes


1. Does the conference abstract fit all of guidelines for the
intended conference?
2. Does the conference abstract give the reader a clear idea of
the intended presentation?
3. Does the conference abstract show that in some way
the presentation is innovative—a new way to deal with
a problem, a new strategy, a new technique, a new
approach, or a new perspective?
4. Is there evidence that the presentation is in some way
connected to the field’s body of knowledge?
5. Does the conference abstract clearly link to the theme or
subtheme?
6. Does the proposed presentation seem to fit the intended
audience?
7. Does the proposed presentation seem to fit the time
allotted for the presentation?
8. Does the word count for the conference abstract come
close to or reach the limit without going over?
9. Is the title relevant to the presentation? / Is it clear?
10. Is the conference abstract free of grammatical,
mechanical, and spelling errors?
11. Is the conference abstract free of abbreviations,
quotations, symbols, and acronyms?
Table 4. Checklist for reviewing a conference abstract

22 ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM 2 01 9 americanenglish.state.gov/english-teaching-forum


abstract, which is a representation of what you from a peer, or do both. After completing
believe you will present (Egbert and Plonsky this exercise with one abstract, try another
2015; Swales and Feak 2000, 2009). In their presentation idea. And if you are part of
research, Berkenkotter and Huckin (1995) a class or network of teachers, you might
and Cutting (2012) found that the promissory suggest forming a group that practices writing
abstract is actually rather common. However, conference abstracts and gives peer feedback.
reviewers are sometimes reluctant to accept
promissory abstracts, aware that there is a REFERENCES
chance that the work will not be finished on
time or the actual presentation will be different Berkenkotter, C., and T. N. Huckin. 1995. Genre
from the conference abstract submission knowledge in disciplinary communication: Cognition/
(Swales and Feak 2009). culture/power. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Curry, M. J., and T. Lillis. 2013. A scholar’s guide to
Some Calls for Papers explicitly state that getting published in English: Critical choices and practical
strategies. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
they do not want any proposals for studies
Cutting, J. 2012. Vague language in conference
that have not been completed, and some abstracts. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 11
conferences require proposals to include papers (4): 283–293.
or ask that papers be submitted prior to the Egbert, J., and L. Plonsky. 2015. Success in the
conference (Curry and Lillis 2013) to ensure abstract: Exploring linguistic and stylistic predictors
that presentations are not substantially different of conference abstract ratings. Corpora 10 (3):
from their proposals. If you must write a 291–313.
promissory abstract, craft it in a way that does Fowler, J. 2011. Writing for professional publication.
not show that your research is incomplete. Part 11: Writing conference abstracts. British Journal
Avoid language that would indicate that your of Nursing 20 (7): 451.
abstract is promissory (Swales and Feak 2000), Halleck, G. B., and U. M. Connor. 2006. Rhetorical
such as “My research will investigate … ” and moves in TESOL conference proposals. Journal of
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“After the data have been collected … ,” and
McVeigh, J. 2012. “Tips on writing successful
do not attempt to include any results and conference presentation proposals.” TESOL Blog. blog.
discussions that do not yet exist. tesol.org/tips-on-writing-successful-conference-
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CONCLUSION Payant, C., and J. A. Hardy. 2016. The dynamic
rhetorical structures of TESOL conference
Because of the elusive nature of the abstracts. BC TEAL Journal 1 (1): 1–17.
conference abstract, coupled with the fact Swales, J. M. 1996. Occluded genres in the academy:
that it is a high-stakes, promotional genre, The case of the submission letter. In Academic writing:
writing a conference abstract can be a Intercultural and textual issues, ed. E. Ventola and A.
challenging task. However, it is well worth Mauranen, 45–58. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
the effort to master the task because it will Swales, J. M., and C. B. Feak. 2000. English in today’s
research world: A writing guide. Ann Arbor: University
enhance your prospects of getting your
of Michigan Press.
proposal accepted. Genre analysis of the ———. 2009. Abstracts and the writing of abstracts. Ann
conference abstract, though limited, helps Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
presenters understand the rhetorical moves
and potential arrangement that make up
a conference abstract. An effective way to Jimalee Sowell is a PhD candidate in Composition
improve familiarity with the affordances and Applied Linguistics at Indiana University of
and constraints of any genre is to practice. I Pennsylvania. A former English Language Fellow,
suggest starting by writing a mock conference she has worked as a teacher and teacher-trainer in a
abstract for a presentation you have done in number of contexts. Her research interests include
the past or would like to do in the future.You teaching writing and teacher training.
can then use the checklist provided in Table 4
to self-edit your proposal, get feedback

americanenglish.state.gov/english-teaching-forum 2019 ENGLISH TEACHING FORUM 23